As promised: Cropping and docking controversies



Someday, if I am both very blessed and very smart, I’ll have a dog as nice as these two above. However, unless I lose my mind and start showing Pembrokes, I won’t be able to do what these dogs did.

The first is Lupi, Ch. Sterling’s Blue Lupine, the first Dane in the US to finish a championship with her ears. The second is Dutch, Ch. Friendly Dutch Isjven, the first Rottweiler to finish in the US with his tail.

Lupi finished in 1980; in 1998 Jerry Rice became (I believe) the only living Boxer at that time to have finished with his ears. Dutch finished in 2006. We’ve come a long way, baby, but there’s still a long way to go.

Ears and tails are an incredibly, almost flabbergastingly, huge issue in the traditionally docked or cropped breeds. When Dutch finished, the Rottie boards hosted some of the ugliest exchanges I’ve ever seen. (I have the worst of them saved, so if anyone wants a private glimpse I’ve got it, but don’t ask me if you don’t want to see a VERY dark side of dog showing). There was talk of lawsuits, of blackballing judges, of disbarring members. The Rottweiler club narrowly passed a measure forcing “education” on all approved judges; they sent every judge a letter asking that any undocked Rottie be excused, with “tail does not conform to standard” written in the judge’s book. (This found some traction with some judges, but got incredulous laughter from a refreshing number of them – every dog has some part of their anatomy or conformation that does not conform to the standard, and by asking them to excuse dogs for this reason the club was effectively ordering them to excuse every dog in every class.)

A few more examples of sheer nuttiness: A few years ago the Old English Sheepdog people (I am not saying the parent club because I honestly don’t know who was in charge of this effort) refused to let any OES with tails be on view at the Eukanuba National Championships “Meet the Breed” booth – despite the fact that Eukanuba invites international competitors and OES have not been docked in Europe for years.

At a large Australian Terrier show, the judge ostentatiously withheld a ribbon on a dog and made a huge deal about it because he was not docked. He WAS docked, just with a longer tail than most. But he goes down in history as being ostracized for still owning his tail. (By the way, on the prior day both WB and WD had ACTUALLY been undocked.)

More than one handler of an uncropped Dane has been told by one judge in particular (and the Dane people know who this is): “Don’t you dare bring that dog in my ring,” despite the fact that uncropped ears are specifically listed in the standard as acceptable and are NOT to be faulted.

And of course this legendary article, which practically defines wackadoodle behavior, is the most recent entry in the contest to see who can be the most biased against parts of the dog that he was born with.

This kind of behavior would honestly be nothing more than a curiosity, a reason to look back in twenty years and chuckle at all the arm-waving, were it not for the fact that the sheer viciousness of the few who believe that they speak for the many has convinced several successive generations of dog breeders and owners and exhibitors that going against the flow is just too dang hard and they won’t do it, or won’t do it more than once.

My friends and I have, many times, wailed with frustration when a beautiful exhibit finishes with his body parts and then every single litter he sires is deprived of theirs. Or a bitch will come on the scene and make a huge splash, finish with ears or tail… and then every single show puppy from her one or two litters is cropped or docked or both. The breeder may leave the pet puppies alone, but they invariably use phrases like “I couldn’t leave him natural – he was too nice.” or “I couldn’t not crop her; she deserves a chance.” And so the wheels keep spinning in the mud because ONE MORE TIME the perception is that only pet-quality dogs keep their parts, that if you are proud of a dog he “deserves” to have his ears cut in half.

Why does it matter? Why should we care? After all, it’s just a look that people like, right?


I’m only going to address cropping a little bit because everybody knows that cropping hurts like hail and they’re lying if they say it doesn’t. Even the shortest easy-care crops cut off one of the most sensitive parts of a puppy’s body and require anesthesia at an age when it should be avoided at all costs. If you’re not in the cropped-breed show world, you may not realize this, but a TON (sometimes I honestly think the majority) of dogs getting show crops are not getting them from vets. The “private croppers” or “home croppers” are considered by many to be the only way to get an attractive show crop. These private croppers are breeders who arrive at your house with a stash of illegal narcotics, usually acepromazine and ketamine, and they anesthetize your puppies and cut the ears on your kitchen counter. Stitch them up and leave the puppies on your living room rug to wake up.


This is my Dane boy, Mitch, when he was maybe five months old. He was cropped by a private cropper; I know that breeder’s name and where he lived. So trust me when I say that I am not making this up. Mitch has an extremely beautiful crop, one of the best I’ve seen, FAR better than the vet crops I’ve seen in my area. I know exactly why his breeder did what she did. He was cropped at six weeks old and I taped those ears every day of his life until he was fifteen months old. He actually had an easy time of it, compared to many Danes I know; he didn’t get massive ear infections or adhesive allergies that burned a hole in his skin; he didn’t open up the suture lines. All he did was run and hide under the table, every three days, as soon as he heard me get the tape out. And every three days, I dragged him out and held his shaking head between my hands and I retaped those ears.


He was gorgeous – oh my gosh was he gorgeous. The win pic here is from when he was barely 17 months; by the time he was three I wanted to bronze him. But I felt like I was selling my soul for those ears and I am firmly convinced that one of the reasons we don’t have him today (I found him an amazing home soon after I retired him from showing – he was shown seven times, went winners twice and reserve twice, and lost 15 lb over the two weekends. I couldn’t do that to him and I took him out) is that his naturally soft and worried personality was very hurt by having his favorite human rip stuff off his ears every 72 hours, without fail, during his entire development.

Nobody in their right mind can really argue that cropping doesn’t hurt. So I’m going to just quickly address the crazy stuff in that article and then move on to docking, which is a much more commonly defended process.

1) Cropping makes a dog healthier by preventing ear infections.

FALSE. The cropped breeds already have lots of air circulation into the ear canal; they have medium to high ear sets and the ear bells away from the head when uncropped. The breeds with extremely low, close-to-the-head sets (the ones that really do have circulation issues) are the spaniels and hounds and setters and so on – and yet (gasp!) not only are they uncropped, the long ear is treasured and seen as a vital part of breed identity.

If you have issues with ear infections, CHANGE YOUR DOG’S DIET. If the yeasts and bacteria no longer have anything to feed on, it doesn’t matter if air circulation isn’t optimal, you still won’t get infections.

2) If we stop cropping, we can’t sell any puppies. Breeders will drop out of clubs; the AKC will collapse.

FALSE. AND CRAZY. Seriously? Look at the hottest dogs out there right now – the doodles and uggles and biffles and boffles. All of them wagging long tails and shaking their long ears around. There’s no reason to think that abandoning the surgeries won’t actually INCREASE demand for puppies.

This argument was already tried in Europe. The governments of the individual countries banned cropping and docking anyway. Ten years later (in most cases; in others it’s substantially longer) the same breeders are breeding and showing the same bloodlines, with equal success… except that now nobody thinks that Old English Sheepdogs are somehow born without their tails.

3) My personal favorite: Long ears soften expression, so dogs will become spooky and soft.


Longer ears are perceived to soften expression for the sole reason that we assume that they do. We’ve somehow equated unnaturally sharp narrow ears in a set that is not found in nature with a hard or working expression. All it takes is an examination of a good Kuvasz, a good Border Terrier, a good Catahoula, to see that down ears do NOT equal a soft or melting expression. SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. You can’t tell the difference between a down ear and, oh, THE ENTIRE STRUCTURE OF THE DOG’S HEAD?

Good GRIEF, look at a Kerry Blue. Anybody think that they’re spooky or soft?

Temperament and working ability is in no way found in the ears. If you can’t figure that out as a breeder, you shouldn’t be breeding. If you can’t see that as a judge, you shouldn’t be anywhere near a ring.

OK – DOCKING! But not tonight. I’ve got to get some sleep so I can plan and make food tomorrow. We’re going to a barbeque featuring…wait for it… grass-fed lamb. LAMB! Who cooks a giant and extremely expensive lamb on the Fourth? Seriously! I’m totally intimidated because I was going to bring the usual fireworks-themed foods like potato salad and jello, but roast lamb? That’s way over into side dishes like roast fennel and handmade pumpkin ravioli. Dang! I wonder if I can get away with smashed cauliflower. Maybe if the cheese is Dubliner? Help!

I’ll be back tomorrow, probably with a still-full dish of smashed cauliflower.


25 thoughts on “As promised: Cropping and docking controversies

  1. It’s actually surprisingly hard to find a breeder of dobermans who will let their puppies go home uncropped (and none of them undocked). That was one of our requirements for our puppy, and we did eventually find someone.

    In fact, we have a pair of dogs who are not mutilated to standard. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    My standard poodle is undocked — — and regularly gets mistaken for a labradoodle.

    And of course, the already mentioned doberman — — who can be described as many things, but spooky and soft are not two of them. How about ridiculously outgoing, exceedingly well balanced, and all around a wonderful dog? Even with her ears. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ll be very interested to see what you have to say on docking. Great post, thanks!

  2. Oh wow, lamb! I hope it’s wonderful, but yeah it does make your job harder. LOL Baked brie maybe?

    The reason I have Cardigans instead of Pembrokes is 1) the tail, I don’t like docking tails, and 2) more pretty colors. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have never liked tail docking, but I DESPISE ear cropping. I don’t care if it’s historical or not, I feel like we should know better now. People never used to let dogs live in their house, either. Since I’m not involved in a crop/dock breed I hadn’t heard that litany of excuses before. Le wow.

  3. I don’t like cropping. (I’m significantly less disgusted by docking,) I think all breed standards should be REQUIRED to feature the ideal natural ears and tail, and judges’ education should feature these prominantly- and “I won’t put up an uncropped/undocked dog’ should be grounds for the judge NOT GETTING TO JUDGE.

    But I think it SHOULD be the individual’s choice to do so, if they feel so strongly that they want it done. Period.

    • “But I think it SHOULD be the individualโ€™s choice to do so, if they feel so strongly that they want it done. Period.”

      Now before I comment, I want to say this isn’t a personal attack but a commentary on the argument, not on you.

      I find this argument interesting. If I believed 3-legged dogs were aesthetically more pleasing and were more effective at, say, hopping after slow-moving targets, would you argue my preference is more important than a dog’s ability to move most freely? Is the ability to balance properly or convey messages easily to other dogs and humans any less important than another physical impediment, like being a tripod? Or is it all about what the human prefers or finds pleasant (even if it means removing body parts)?

      It just seems like a true slippery slope can be created with that kind of argument.

      • Removing the leg of a dog grossly changes it’s functionality. Removing a tail or ear flaps does not. I’ve heard the argument that docked/cropped dogs are limited in their ability to communicate with other animals – but as an owner of a docked dog, I know that argument has no merit what so ever.

        I think a slippery-slope can be created by *legislating* any additional laws about issues such as docking and cropping (remember, there are existing anti-cruelty laws, and an insane lack of funding for enforcing them). If docking/cropping is banned based on cruelty, then what’s next? E-collars? Prong collars? Choke chains/slip leads? Outside kennels?

        I prefer a change to the existing breed standards (and, AFAIK, all standards allow for natural ears) and education of judges, rather than any legislative changes. Legislation simply means dogs will suffer, in my opinion. We already have too many animal laws that are either nonfunctional (breed bans, limits to the # of dogs allowed/household) or unable to be enforced. I will always choose education over legislation.

        • I would not argue that cropped/docked dogs are incapable of communicating with other dogs. At the same time, ears and tails serve as behavioral indicators. Tail flagging, tucked tail, erect & stiff tail, low slow tail wagging all convey messages about the emotional state of the animal. Ears held flat back, ears pointed forward, ears down to the side also convey messages about the emotional state of the animal. To claim otherwise is to ignore basic canine body language.

          I did not mention legislation as a means of modifying perception, and I think it is always unfortunate that it has to come to legislation to encourage appropriate behavior. ๐Ÿ™‚

          My main point of contention is this notion of “individual preference” as rationale for cropping/docking being acceptable. Individual preference has it’s place in society (I prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla) but there should be a much more stringent cost-benefit analysis when it comes to removing body parts or causing harm to another. (And I am not saying causing harm is always inappropriate – e.g. surgery to remove a tumor is painful, but if removal increases life span, improves welfare, decreases overall suffering, then the benefit of surgery may outweigh the cost). It is my belief that the “benefits” of most crop/docks do not outweigh the costs.

          In any event, I’m floundering trying to convey that arguing from an “individual preference” perspective is a logical fallacy and does not provide solid rationale for crop/dock.

  4. The AVMA recently took back its statement that it did not support crop/dock for aesthetic purposes and that made me incredibly sad. They went from “The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes.” to “Although cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking of dogs has little or no therapeutic basis, it is a procedure that is condoned by the American Kennel Club and by many members of society. It is imperative that the procedures be performed by trained, licensed, and caring veterinarians using current standard of care.”

    How dare a veterinary association suggest that cutting ears off puppies so that they look “right” might not be in the best interest of the dogs??!

  5. My first purebred was a gorgeous, rescued, cropped (show crop) and docked Doberman. He had a retained testicle when I adopted him at 13 months old. I truly think he was someone’s show prospect that they dumped. The shelter said he was a Rott x Dobe cross. Yeah right. He can be seen on my blog:

    The reason I then went to GSDs, and now Cardigans, is I love prick ears, but refuse to crop. I am not against docking if it is done at 3 days with dew claws, but it is something I will not personally do. I like my tails too.

    Danes & Boxers look fabulous with natural ears. I do not like the look of a natural Dobe, nor the health issues associated with the breed, so I willhappily stay within my herding group.

  6. If anyone reads Dog News, it is unsettling to see 20+ AKC Judges take out an ad almost every issue promoting the Rottweiler as a docked breed and tails should NOT be awarded.

  7. “Tail flagging, tucked tail, erect & stiff tail, low slow tail wagging all convey messages about the emotional state of the animal. Ears held flat back, ears pointed forward, ears down to the side also convey messages about the emotional state of the animal. To claim otherwise is to ignore basic canine body language.”

    I never claimed otherwise, and anyone who knows anything about dogs never would. ๐Ÿ™‚

    However, docked and cropped dogs *are* able to do all of the above.

    And the comments about legislation spoke more to the general “bans” that are usually the answer to issues such as this.

    • I’m not sure how an Australian Shepherd can show tail language.

      I agree with you that docked dogs figure out how to communicate. However, I think it’s very arguable that they are being given a speech impediment and have to learn how to overcome it (for example, with the exaggerated butt wag replacing the tail wag). But VERY difficult to prove, and not a particularly great argument for or against docking.

  8. When you talk about docking, can you debunk or verify the “some X spaniels have naturally short tails” I’ve heard about docked spaniels?

    Your picture of the beautiful uncropped Dane reminds me of an item on the TV news recently where what I swear was an uncropped Dane was identified as a pit bull. (Poor dog was in trouble because it had bitten someone at it’s owners command – which is a whole ‘nother layer of idiocy!)


    • There are several breeds that have naturally short tails and these occur for a variety of reasons. Some have a tail that ends in a very short tight twist (Frenchies, Bulldogs), while others have a straight tail that just ends quite short if the bobtail gene is present (a whole bunch of these). Some of the naturally bobbed breeds’ bobbing gene shortens the tail but it’s unpredictable how much; a “bobbed” puppy can have anything from a virtually nonexistent tail to one that is half-length or even longer. And of course in some breeds (a few of the short-backed terriers are like this) the tail is about half the length of “normal” but it’s just the way the dog is; it’s not a genetic mutation.

      The short-tail/bobtail gene, which is what causes bobtails in Pembrokes, Vallhunds, Brittanys, etc. is lethal in its homozygous form; any puppy that receives two copies of the gene will die early in its development. When two natural bobtail dogs are bred together, roughly a quarter of the puppies will have long tails, half will be bobbed, and a quarter will die. Since puppies that don’t develop are not born (the mom dog just resorbs the puppy) you may get a slightly smaller litter size but most of the time you’d never notice. It took genetic studies to confirm that it was in fact lethal in its homozygous form.

      So the short answer to your question is that you can have a naturally bobtail Brittany, and since the gene is relatively common it could show up in other breeds as well. But the VAST VAST majority of the dogs in these breeds are docked. In fact, in these breeds many breeders will avoid the natural bobtailed dogs as breeding candidates because a naturally short tail is much harder to dock “properly.” For example, Pembrokes and Australian Shepherds are docked as close to the anus as possible; there is almost no length of tail left on the dog. So even if they are born bobbed, they’re docked, and it’s a lot easier to dock a long tail than a short one.

  9. You are SO wonderful for speaking out against this barbaric practice. I’m not sure if you saw the debate recently at ‘that board’ (but you can probably guess who was for it). It was absolutely disgusting to see some of the garbage being touted there (but somehow not surprising, considering the place these days).

    We’re not into showing (we adopt mutts) but here in Australia it’s been illegal for a while, so it’s very uncommon to see a docked dog (never see cropped ears, ever). When my kids see a docked tail they’re so confused (they were flabbergasted during Marley and Me – the beach scene only shows a couple of dogs with their tails). And imo that’s the way it should be – confusion over why on EARTH someone would cut part of a dog’s body off.

    • No, I’ve been staying away from there as much as possible lately. It just makes me sad and frustrated.

      And yes, you’re right, the response should be “Oh no, that dog must have been injured and they had to amputate the tail,” not an expectation that a whole ton of them don’t have tails.

  10. yesterday morning when I saw this post, I looked up from the computer and told my husband “Joanna’s gift to me this holiday weekend is an eloquent tirade against cropping & docking. This is why I *love* her!”

    Floppy ears and wagging tails are my “thing”, which is yet another reason why the Hounds always melt my heart. That Dane is absolutely spectacular!!!

    The grass-fed lamb sounded so delish, wish I could’ve helped you out with a side-dish recipe, like a tomato-feta salad. But I’m sure you found something suitable. ๐Ÿ˜€ Do tell…

    • Actually, my sister and I went together (with our respective husbands and my kids) and brought a tomato and mozzarella salad and mashed cauliflower. Nobody got a taste of the lamb; it was a big crush and I think they underbought for the numbers. After an hour we ditched and went back and did our own BBQ at her house. So everybody won!

  11. It’s good to see a well presented discourse for once!
    I would suggest that anyone interested should take a look at these links on pain sensitivity in neonates and the other on docking

    I owned the first tailed Old English to be shown at Crufts and the first British tailed OES to be shown in Europe after Pet Passports were made available in the UK. The only reason that the UK didn’t have cropping was due to the dislike of the practice by a earlier Royal who requested that the UK KC ban it. The UK KC has always supported the practice of docking but as legislation has now been passed breed standards have had to change but it is a slow process to get judges to judge fairly.
    Legislation unfortunately is the only way forward as there are die hards in these breeds who will “almost” stop at nothing to defend their right to dock or own a docked dog.

  12. Thank you so much, why can’t everyone think like you. I find the practice of docking, cropping and dew claw removal to be horrific. I can not understand why anyone who loves dogs would want to continue this barbaric practice. I can only hope that soon it will e banned in the U.S. and we can stop mutilating puppies.

  13. I like both the natural and the cropped look for Danes – it depends on the dog and of course it depends on getting a good crop with good after care.

    I will say, I don’t know how long ago it was that you had Mitch (and he was gorgeous!) but nowadays the methods for taping ears has radically changed. The ear canal isn’t blocked so there is no risk of ear infections. We don’t change the tapes nearly so often – since the ear has good air circulation they can stay taped up for a week or more at a time. Which means that removing the tape is usually easy, and if it’s still sticky we use adhesive remover. No ripping, no pulling out hair.

    We use minimal tape which is put over different areas each time so no skin irritation. The puppies don’t run and hide, they don’t tremble, and they are trained to enjoy it like any other basic grooming chore. I teach my dogs to LIKE having their nails Dremeled (they do actually come running toward the Dremel when I switch it on!) and their teeth brushed and getting into the tub and all those things. Ear taping included – it CAN be pleasant for the dog!

    Ears heal very, very quickly and we don’t mess with them until the suture lines are healed. Then it is just a matter of bracing the ear up until the cartilage hardens – which usually happens by 5 months of age with my dogs. We may have to tape an ear tip later on when the dog is teething. They truly don’t hurt when they are taped – I see puppies chewing on each other’s taped ears and they don’t mind because the tape gives them some protection. But if they chew on a natural ear, or a cropped one that is untaped for a while, there is plenty of screaming! They don’t notice and definitely don’t cry if they bump their ears, or stick them through the bars of the crate when they are sleeping. They aren’t head shy, they don’t mind having their ears handled.

    I know all of this is a defensive argument because ultimately ear cropping is just cosmetic and not “necessary”. But my point is that if done well (and yes I do have an actual vet who does my crops, she has been trained to do show crops and they are gorgeous) and with proper aftercare it is NOT cruel.

    I think that banning a procedure just because it is cruel if improperly done is a REAL “slippery slope”. I mean, that covers ALL medical procedures – shoot, if you spay or castrate a dog and don’t give it good pain meds afterward that is cruelty!

    Banning a procedure because it isn’t medically necessary is also a slippery slope. Again, what about spay and neuter? They are done more for human convenience than anything else – and now we are finding that although they certainly prevent some diseases, they increase the risk of others. Lots of surgeries that are not “medically necessary” are done every day. Removal of benign lumps and cysts because the owner doesn’t like the way the look. Anesthesia to clean teeth because the owner doesn’t want to brush the dog’s teeth. I could go on. I know I’m not going to change anyone’s opinion here, but at least it may get some of you thinking.

    • Hey, I know you – you’re Patience’s mom! It is nothing but an HONOR to have you visit.

      I wish Mitch’s taping experience (or what I have seen most Danes go through) had gone as well as your puppies’ have; Mitch was taped until he was 15 months old and I did absolutely everything “right.” I used all the right stays and techniques and used Elastikon and Unisolve and it was still something he (and I) hated.

      You have a Frisco kid, right? One of my favorite dogs of all time.

      I think that it’s not scary to look at unnecessary versus necessary interventions. Does castration hurt? Yes. Does it cause long-term effects? Yes. So we SHOULD question whether its benefits outweigh its risks; whether it’s worth it to the dog. I’d actually say that health-wise it’s not, but the dog’s quality of life may be better because it will be more welcome in classes and dog areas and so on. It’s something that owners should consider much more mindfully than they do.

      Does spaying hurt? Yes. Does it cause long-term effects? yes. Does its benefit outweigh its risk? That one is much clearer, and it’s yes. But you should minimize the risk by researching your breed’s growth and health issues and making a good decision about when and how to spay.

      And so on. No question should be avoided because it makes us have to think hard; we should be welcoming it.

      • Thank you! Yes, our foundation bitch Kinsey is a Frisco daughter. She’s 7 now and still going strong, still competing in agility.

        So glad to hear reasonable discussion about this topic here – of course I’ll love my Danes just as much if I’m not allowed to have ears cropped in the future, but I think people often are too quick to say “there should be a law against (insert practice here)” without thinking it through. When a better approach would be to ensure that the practice is consistently done in a humane manner.

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